Sunday, October 23, 2016

This Is What Real Presidents Look Like!

Of course, I'm speaking of Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of the United States and Harry Houdini, President of the Society of American Magicians from 1917 to 1927 though he died in 1926 during his last term. I believe Houdini was the longest serving President of the S.A.M. as well.

The photo was created by Houdini as an example of Spirit Photography. He wanted to show how easily such a process was faked. There are numerous versions of this photo, and I found a very interesting one that is stored at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. You can see the photo and a handwritten letter of Houdini's here: 

That is as 'political' as I will get. Sorry, I don't discuss politics as a rule.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Paul Osborne Passes Away

I just got word that Paul Osborne passed away suddenly this morning. No news on what happened, yet.

I found out when I saw Jay Johnson's post on Facebook.  Where would I be had it not been for Paul. My first sub-trunk was built with Paul Osborne plans. One of my very popular Santa Claus productions was Paul's. I have a huge double Tip-Over Trunk in storage that we built from Paul's excellent plans and my latest steampunk effect, Tri-Section, came from Pauls incredible workshop plans. Anyone who works with illusions will feel profound sadness this day. RIP Paul. Below is a link to the piece that Jay Johnson wrote on his blog.

THE WORLD IS A STAGE: Good Bye Paul:  The tradition is to break a magic wand in half in honor of a magician who dies.  Symbolically it says that his magic will not be done aga...

For those interested, here is a wonderful article about Paul. It gives more details on his life and it was written while he was still alive.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Le Grand David Magic Memorabilia

I was going through my storage unit this past weekend looking for items to write about in this blog when I came upon a treasure trove of Le Grand David things. I honestly, don't even recall a lot of it and there is much more than I'm posting here. I found programs, flyers, postcards, saved envelopes, 8x10 photos, magazine articles and more. However, the items I'll share with you today are a little different.

First, we have the TIME Magazine article at the top of the page. This first appeared in TIME Magazine on May 12, 1980. It really shows that their show was something quite different from other magic shows. Full color photos of a MAGIC SHOW graced the paged of TIME Magazine. I can't help but think that was a first! This was the companies first National exposure and I'm not sure they were expecting the deluge that would follow. As soon as the article appeared, they began to get requests from all over, and I mean all over the world, for tickets. They would sell out that theatre on many occasions, even the balcony. In fact, according to the book Carteles de Magia, Cesareo commissioned a sign to be painted that said, SOLD OUT, that they could post in the lobby window. The magic world also sat up and took notice of the show. Even though they had started running 2 full page ads in Genii Magazine, the editor at the time Bill Larsen had yet to see the show. So in the summer of 1980, Bill and his wife Irene attended their first Le Grand David Magic Show. I know this for a fact because I was there. I met them during intermission at the show. It was a huge highlight for me. And then when the show was over, David Bull, who is Le Grand David, signed my copy of Genii Magazine, which I just so happened to carry with me to the show. The magic press would continue to write amazing articles as would magazines and newspapers of all kinds for the remainder of the shows run.

One interesting note, that now makes me a bit sad, is that after the TIME Magazine article came out, a number of Hollywood producers came to see the show. One of them even stayed for three days in the hopes of making a full length documentary on the magic show and it's company. How wonderful this might have been. But Cesareo turned them all down. I read this in Carteles de Magia, which added this quote by Cesareo, "Success and failure are two imposters." I remember him telling me about the Hollywood people and the Broadway visitors who wanted to get their hands on the show. But to quote Carteles de Magia, "Cesareo was highly unlikely to let our work diverge too far from it's original purpose." Still, the TIME article provided benefits right up until the end of the show's life. By the way, if you click the image of the article, a larger version should pop up that you can read.

The next item is a Le Grand David Baseball Hat. This was given to my by Cesareo on one of my visits to Beverly. He and Avrom and Ann picked me up at the airport. We drove back to Beverly and I remember Cesareo was filled with questions for me on that trip. He and all the company were always very generous. I think they tried to give me a stack of posters every time I came up there, and I know I was not the only one who received this treatment. The hat was an unexpected gift, and I only ever wore it on that trip. When I got back, I made sure to put it in storage for safe keeping. There were three different hats offered in one of the LGD Auctions. This red version was there as well as a black and a gray hat.

The very very first time I went to LGD as a kid, I remember that there were samples of the posters available for purchase behind the consession stand. But upon my visits years later, I never really noticed anything 'for sale' beyond the candy and popcorn. I do believe at the Larcom they did have a small display case however. AND Rick Heath did walk around the theatre before the show as Albert Ping Pong selling programs.

Next is a mini poster print. The 'Stage Magic Lives Again' poster. The actual painting for this poster was hung in the theatre for a long time. And I think it was given to Ray Goulet to  display in his Magic Museum. It's a beautiful poster, and it's concept and style comes from a Nicola poster. This was a wonderful way to connect Le Grand David to the magic shows of the past, but they would soon develop their own unique style of poster. It's funny to see this tiny version when the actual poster is enormous.

The poster depicts several scenes from the Cabot show. Upper left is the duck production. Upper right shows David and Marco presenting the Okito Production Screens. In the middle we see the wonderful Pagado that was the grand finale of the show. The lower left shows assistants with giant fans, and then the lower right is David popping out of their beautiful Shadow Box illusion.

I don't know who painted this one however. There is no mention in the Carteles book as to who the artist was.  Cesareo was usually the designer or came up with the concept for the posters and other company members would do the painting. Rick Heath and Bill Balkus both painted and there may have been more. Clearly they were a highly talented and creative company but Cesareo always preferred to leave the early posters unsigned because they were an collaborative ensemble effort.

The final item is a small pin that I picked up on ebay. I think there were two different pins that they produced. It's amazing to me the many ways they used their artwork to promote the shows. I've seen the works used in advertising, posters, flyers, programs, postcards, books, decks of cards, pins and probably ways I never even imagined. This pin shows David presenting the Zombie and Cesareo wearing his costume for the Linking Rings. Rather than holding rings, Cesareo has butterflies around him, which was imagery that they would use many times in their artwork. The pin itself is about 1 inch by 2 inches.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The Phoenix Poster- Le Grand David

How fitting that I should return to my blog with The Phoenix! This is a poster I saw at the Cabot Street Cinema Theatre during my very first visit many many years ago. After the show, seeing the show for the first time, I had the opportunity to buy one of these cool posters but didn't.  I regretted my decision. (I did purchase two 'other' posters however, which I still have today)

A few months later I would see the poster on display at the American Museum of Magic. And over the years I would see various versions of the poster, but getting one myself always alluded me.

According to the book, Carteles de Magia, by the Le Grand David Company, the poster was created
in May 1977. It was one of their most popular posters. It was called 'The Bird of Paradise or The Phoenix'. The poster featured the full name of the theatre for the first time, The Cabot St. Cinema Theatre, and also proclaimed the newly added second show on Sundays at 8:15pm. The design was done by Rick Heath, it was marker on mat board. What made the poster so unique is that on some of the posters, members of the company customized them by adding paints, water colors, glitter and even decoupage. The posters were printed on various colored paper and came in two sizes 20.5x28.5 and 10x14.

I have only ever seen the larger ones customized.  The two images above are from the first Kaminski Auction. I have seen various other versions on ebay and elsewhere. Finally, thanks to the kindness and generosity of one of my readers, I can proudly say I have one of the customized Le Grand David Phoenix Posters in my collection. I have never seen a blue version before so this one is very special to me! The poster is also signed by Marco, Seth, Le Grand David and Professor Besco, the four lead performers at that time.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

More On Houdini and Kellar

More on Houdini & Kellar

Five years ago, I wrote an article about Harry Kellar and Harry Houdini, and then wrote a follow-up article on a different blog. I've decided to move that 'other' article over here for you to enjoy, but I'm also rewriting it a bit.  I am totally fascinated by these two performers. I can't get enough of Kellar and Houdini. The more I find out about each of them, the more interesting they become.

KELLAR of course was the first nationally famous magician born in America. Robert Heller and Herrmann the Great preceded him, but Heller was English and Herrmann was from France. If you want to go back further, you could make the case for Signor Blitz as he was quite famous as well, but again, he was from another country.  Kellar was born in Erie PA so he was a native born son. It's said that Harry Kellar was the inspiration for the character of the Wizard in the Wizard of OZ. Actually, I've only heard this said within the magic world. I have a biography of L. Frank Baum, the author of the Wizard of OZ and there is no mention of Kellar in the book. Still, that doesn't mean he wasn't the inspiration.

Kellar was around before the modern media, before radio/TV/internet/movies, and certainly no Social Media. In fact, in Kellar's time, it was rare to see a photograph in the paper, as that technology was still in it's infancy. Instead, there were line drawings or fancy fonts in ads that were being used. So how did Kellar sell his show? POSTERS, newspaper ads and word of mouth! Kellar has some of the most beautiful and highly collectable posters in the history of the theatre.  If you examine Kellar's posters you'll receive a 19th Century lesson on Branding that is still valid today. His posters had a consistent look and theme. Whether they displayed young Kellar or older Kellar, they were still done in the same style. Some posters featured Kellar performing his signature effects, others showed only Kellar...and usually a few of his devilish imps appeared in the posters as well.

There are a number of effects in Kellar's show that have always intrigued me, probably because I saw posters for them when I was starting out in magic and the images stuck with me. Two in particular were Flyto and OH!. Flyto was an illusion invented by Charles Morritt and it consisted of two upright rectangular cabinets on the stage set several feet apart. A woman would go into one and a man into the other and instantly they would change places.

OH! was kind of a challenge vanish. There was a chair, with a curtain cabinet around it. A Steel plate went under the chair to prevent someone from dropping into a trap door. The assistant who sat in the chair put her hand through the curtain which was held by a spectator from the audience, and the other hand held a ring which was attached to a cord held by another spectator. And under these stringent conditions the person in the chair still vanished without a trace! 

HOUDINI was not born in the USA, but he always presented himself as if he was. In his mind he was a mid-westerner from a little town called Appleton. Now, where Heller and Herrmann were Kellar's rivals, they had a different connection to Houdini. Herrmann was a distant relative (maybe). Houdini enormous respect for Heller, even going so far to track down the old magi's grave. He said of Heller, "he was the most versatile magician to ever life."

Houdini was not the inspiration for any fictional characters that I'm aware of, however, he was such an iconic figure in history that he became the inspiration for many people inside and outside of magic. Even today, they still make movies and write books about this fellow, so still he has a hold on the public's imagination.

Houdini predated the internet/social media and TV. But he was right there when radio and movies were in their infancy, and he used them to the best of his ability. He did a number of radio interviews and as far as movies went, he starred in movies as well as opened his own movie studio to produce his own movies and his own film development company.  He also used newspapers in ways that others had not with his sometimes scandalous photos (think naked jail escapes).  Through his outdoor escapes he created his own sort of 'social media', back then it was called 'word of mouth' and it was extremely effective.

Like Kellar, Houdini used posters to their maximum effect. He even had one poster that had devils on it, but he eventually went his own way when it came to the images on the posters. He emphasised drama, fear and emotion in many of his posters. The Water Torture Cell posters and the Milk Can, 'Failure Means a Drowning Death' and the Water Torture cells often had the depiction of a green giant putting Houdini in the cell. Pure drama!

In regards to his performing material I've always been intrigued with the escapes but lately it's his magic that is pulling me in. I never in a million years considered doing the East Indian Needle Trick. The It's an effect that has danger (real danger) and suspense and it appears totally impossible. It's frankly brilliant and Houdini recognized the trick for how powerful it was. He would do it in newspaper offices, he even did it on the stage at the Hippodrome Theatre, one of the largest stages in the world! Watch for it in my act, because it's coming.

Houdini's Walking Through a Brick wall is another piece that is simply genius. Though I don't expect to Walk Through a Brick Wall anytime soon (it won't fit in my Van). And frankly, I have a new found respect for the Milk Can after having done a ton of research on it. The Milk Can restarted a stalled career for Houdini and then when he was ready to replace it with the Water Torture Cell, he found continual uses for the Milk Can.

It's ironic that Houdini and Kellar didn't really become friends until after Kellar retired. Houdini always looked up to Kellar. Houdini had a habit of looking up to 'father-figures'. Kellar fits this description, as does Harry Cooke & Oscar Teale.

The Houdini/Kellar relationship carries a valuable lesson.  No matter how famous you are, there are people out there that you can admire. These two performers, certainly both admired each other.

By the way, maybe the best photo of the two magicians together can be found online. I will post the link, because I don't know who owns this today and would not post it without the owners ok.